THE Clare chair of the Vintner’s Federation of Ireland (VFI) has described the government’s plans to restrict indoor hospitality to vaccinated people only as “a total smokescreen”.
Charlie O’Meara characterised the mood of the county’s 160 VFI members as one of “annoyance, anger and frustration” at news that indoor hospitality will not now resume until July 19, at the earliest, and that unvaccinated people may be banned.
The Ennis publican said he now fears for what faces the trade this winter when government supports come to an end and vintners try to restart their businesses, without the benefit of the normal summer takings.
“There has been absolutely terrible treatment of our members,” he told The Champion.
“There’s been no respect whatsoever and the government would have been happy enough, once again, to leave this issue to the eleventh hour, but for the fact that the VFI in Dublin put pressure on them to make a decision. It’s just not good enough.
“There’s no realisation, after 16 months, of how this industry works and what they’ve come up with now is a total smokescreen. There is still no date for a full return to indoor services and no clarity at the moment. Are we going to face the same situation again at the end of July?”
Mr O’Meara also called for clarity on the Covid-19 figures and trends that would need to be evident before the return to indoor dining and drinking in bars and restaurants.
“We need to see what exactly NPHET wants to see before we can reopen fully,” he said.
“We’d like to know what’s behind the NPHET figures. Where exactly do we have to be and why is it that we’re the only country in Europe in this situation?
“The reality is that we’re going to be in this situation for years, so it’s time the responsibility was given back to the people. We’re not going to be forcing people in the doors of our premises. Anyone who is unhappy with a situation has a choice.
“Publicans will be working to get this right and it’s time that the government stopped treated us like children.”
While government has said that an implementation plan to allow fully vaccinated clients access to bars and restaurants will be drawn up by July 19, Mr O’Meara, like many in the sector, is sceptical about how practical that approach is.
“We were told all the way through the pandemic that we were in this together,” he said.
“To now say that only vaccinated people can dine and drink indoors will cause major problems. What about a situation where a family comes in and the parents are vaccinated but the kids aren’t? Do I have to tell them that mam and dad can sit inside and the kids have to stay away or sit in the beer garden. I don’t have the right to do that.”
Administering a vaccine certificate or passport system for patrons, which has worked in other countries, is something that Mr O’Meara believes the government should have been planning for months, if they are really serious about it.
“You’d have to wonder why people getting their second dose of the vaccine weren’t automatically issued with this certification, if the government were seriously considering this measure,” he said.
“Instead, they’re putting a working group together and you’d have to worry that their deliberations could go on for months. That’s before you consider legal challenges.
“I can guarantee you that ordinary, law-abiding citizens who may not be vaccinated, for whatever reason, will have serious issues with this government plan.”
Mr O’Meara also raised concerns over the fairness of the government’s plan in terms of hospitality staff.
“I can’t turn around to my staff and force them to be vaccinated before they can work,” he said.
“Once again, the new system the government is proposing doesn’t make sense.”
Bolstered financial supports are now on the way for affected businesses and the government has said staff can return to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) if necessary.
“The government have been good in that regard,” Mr O’Meara conceded. “In fairness, we can’t complain about that. The reality is though that the only way to have a viable business is to have an operational one. This is a sector where someone just can’t turn their business on and off overnight.
“My big fear now is about the number that will actually survive. The banks are waiting in the wings, people will have money owed to Revenue. The money we’re getting from government is only covering basics.
“Summer income is really crucial to this sector to survive into the winter. Going into winter without that is going to be very, very difficult, especially if parties and festivals aren’t allowed in the autumn and winter.
“The supports from government have been very welcome, but they won’t be enough for an awful lot of businesses in this sector and I am fearful, at this stage, about what’s ahead.”
Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 065 6864146.